On Monday night came the inevitable announcement that Orlando had parted ways with head coach Stan Van Gundy and GM/President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith.
Similar to LeBron James’s exodus from Cleveland two years ago, speculation has been swirling around this move for months as a way to please franchise center Dwight Howard, so that the NBA’s three-time Defensive Player of the Year will sign an extension with the Magic. He hasn’t yet.
Howard, 26, will enter the final year of his contract next season, and if he hasn’t signed an extension before the season ends he’ll be the most sought after free agent on the market since LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh flooded the market two summers ago.
So the question becomes, what does this matter for the Nets’ chances of obtaining the big man? Not much. Here’s four reasons why:
1. Any new GM Orlando brings in, short of Hall-of-Famer Jerry West, will not be able to shake up the roster and turn things around in less than a year’s time to convince Howard that this team will compete for titles in the very near future. A chance to play for a contender is what every star wants and right now, with its roster, Orlando is not headed in that direction any time soon.
There have been problems for several years with Orlando’s roster that Howard’s mere presence on the court has masked. The biggest one currently is how the Magic is still on the hook for nearly $24 million to the over the next two years. Turkoglu, now 33, is a decent player but his contract pays him like an All-Star (which he’s never been) and because of it the Magic have little wiggle room in signing other players to come in make this team a true contender.
The frustrating thing for Orlando is that it has a franchise center, in Howard, that most guards and forwards would love to play with. They just haven’t drafted or traded wisely around Howard and since signing free agent forward Rashard Lewis to a huge contract in 2007 (that hasn’t worked out for them) they’ve had little cap space to work with in free agency.
Furthermore with a loaded NBA draft this summer Orlando, which was just bounced from the playoffs, does not have a lottery pick to work with.
2. Any new coach Orlando brings in, short of Phil Jackson (who’s not going to Orlando) would be unlikely to sway Howard to stay.
Jackson is the biggest coaching fish in the pond but it’s unlikely he’s taking any team’s bait these days, especially one with such a murky future.
Even hiring a coach as good as Jackson doesn’t guarantee anything. During his first two seasons (2005–2007) in his second stint as head coach of the then Shaq-less Lakers Jackson’s teams lost in the first round of the playoffs both years. It wasn’t until Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak somehow convinced Memphis to trade them star forward Pau Gasol (for 50 cents on the dollar) and young center Andrew Bynum developed that the Lakers jumped back into contender-status.
Besides, does any player really want to be the reason a coach loses his job? If Howard was afraid of becoming a villain for leaving the team via free agency, the removal of Van Gundy did nothing to quell that fear.
3. Nets biggest dominoes have yet to fall.
The aforementioned lottery, which takes place May 30 is the first domino. The now-Brooklyn Nets need to land a top-three selection so they can keep their pick, which otherwise goes to Portland to complete the trade for forward Gerald Wallace.
Naturally the biggest prize in the lottery is getting the top pick so that the Nets can grab Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. The 6-foot-10-inch, long-armed Davis looks like the next great center/power forward in this league and is a difference-maker at both ends of the court.
Should the Nets get Davis, luring Howard and resigning point guard Deron Williams would be much easier and would turn the franchise into the Eastern Conference’s biggest contender.
Signing Williams this summer is the next big domino that would need to fall to get Howard but recent signs are good that Williams will be back. Most notably, the New York Post reported earlier this month that Williams spent time in Istanbul, Turkey, with Nets GM Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Howard likely won’t come via free agency to Brooklyn if Williams signs elsewhere (like Dallas). He wants to play alongside a star, which is what the Nets were correctly gambling on when they went all-in with the trade for Williams in 2011.
4. Howard still hasn’t signed with Orlando. The Magic still can’t afford to let him go for nothing.
This is still the biggest news. If Howard wanted to be a member of the Magic for the next five years, there’s been a big, fat contract that’s been waiting for him to sign sitting in the Magic’s front offices everyday for the past couple of years. But he hasn’t.
Furthermore, the LeBron James situation (where he was booed mercilessly after leaving the Cavs) may have put a scare into Howard doing the same, but the team should be scared as well.
Cleveland gambled that LeBron would resign with them two summers ago so they didn’t trade him away beforehand. After he abruptly took his talents to South Beach the Cavs became a mess posting a 40–108 record the past two seasons. Previous to his departure the team had averaged 63.5 wins a year in 2008–10.
Orlando saw this situation themselves when Shaquille O’Neal left for Hollywood in the summer of 1996. The Magic still had Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, and some good role players on the team that kept them afloat for a few years but without their franchise center they didn’t become relevant until they took Howard with the first pick in the 2004 NBA draft.
With center Brook Lopez, guard MarShon Brooks, and a willingness to surrender a number of future first-round draft picks the Nets have the means to give Orlando a decent return for Howard, should the Magic realize that this is their best option.
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